Abandoning the Beauty Process: Krist Novoselic premieres new film May 20 at Blinding Light
By Bob Mackin
ART versus commerce.
The epic, age-old battle has been fought on many fronts. The concept so fascinated Krist Novoselic that it became the theme of his new film, L7: The Beauty Process.
Novoselic, best known as Nirvana's bassist, is co-leader of the Seattle band Sweet 75. When his new group hit the road with Los Angeles' L7 in October 1997, Novoselic brought an 8 mm camera and film.
"We were visiting on the first night of the tour together and after a while we were talking about our bands' respective situations with the music industry," Novoselic told the News. "We were sharing a lot of our frustrations about popular music, bands and the whole system. I went off to bed that night and I was thinking about our conversation and I thought 'Oh, that's what I want to make the film about.'"
Though the 43-minute colour film relies mainly on L7 performance footage, the band does engage in some acting. There are three satirical vignettes exposing the music industry's foibles: a focus group, lunch meeting with a record company artists and repertoire executive and a graduation ceremony/contract signing with the devil.
"The focus group is about marketing, the A&R guy is about how you're promised the world and you have a little bit of bad luck and they drop you, they abandon you, they leave you holding the cheque," Novoselic explained. "The commencement is about being frustrated and how to let those frustrations go .
"The band is going through the film and they're kickin' ass, they're pissed off and being angry. The devil is laying everything out and saying here's the truth, here's the reality of everything. Then they say a little prayer where they realize that's what's going on. Graduation and commencement is a rite of passage, it commemorates a beginning, leaving all that frustration and bitterness behind, because you realize what the reality is."
Novoselic said he's lucky not to have many complaints about the music industry after his years with Nirvana. He has heard horror stories from other musicians who followed in Nirvana's footsteps. Some of their bands fell victim to the record industry's massive early 90s expansion and equally large contraction of the late 90s.
"It was an art-driven phenomenon," he said about Nirvana. "One of the basic tenets of the Nirvana phenomenon was that the mainstream came to Nirvana. Nirvana did not go to the mainstream. That's an important thing to remember.
"For the most part I've had a good experience, I've had my share of bad. It's like a relationship, basically. That's why I say the film's about the bad parts of the music industry. And I'm part of the music industry whether I like it or not."
More than anything else, the Beauty Process is about personal responsibility, Novoselic said. Artists should know what they're getting into before they sign their creativity away to business interests.
Since Nirvana came to an abrupt end with Kurt Cobain's suicide five years ago, Novoselic has remained busy in and out of music. In addition to Sweet 75, he's part of a music and film collective called Sunshine Cake with members of Sky Cries Mary and Ministry. He's been recording with Sweet 75 and Sunshine Cake in a mobile digital studio which he plans to instal in a Pacific County bus that he recently bought. He's also working on film collaboration with Kurt Danielson, bassist with Tad.
Perhaps the biggest change for Novoselic has been a leap into political activism. He's the driving force behind JAMPAC, the Joint Artists and Music Promotions Political Action Committee. JAMPAC lobbies against censorship to state and federal politicians. In Seattle, it is seeking amendments to the controversial teen dance ordinance, a bylaw that restricts all-ages concerts.
Novoselic will be at the Canadian premiere of L7: The Beauty Process next Thursday. Novoselic and Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl spent some time in West Vancouver at Bryan Adams' home studio to mix From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah., the Nirvana live album released in 1996.
"It's got a really nice board and all the gear, it's got everything you really need to mix a world class record," he said. "It's a laid back place, it's quiet around there, unless you're really crankin' up the mixing speakers. It's a pretty nondescript place. It's a nice house. If you kind of walk around back there's a sliding glass door, all of a sudden you're in the mixing room. We had a good experience there."